Okra, demystified

If I was to play a word association game with okra, the first three things to come to mind would be southern, fried and slimy. Oh, how wrong I was!

I was always worried about the elusive “slime” that okra has. What is it? How do I avoid it? I never really thought much about okra, so I had no idea what to do with it. So I went and got my trusty old Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, which is where I got my answer and some interesting facts about okra, and here they are:

1) Okra is the immature seed pod of Hibiscus (specifically, abelmoschus esculentus).

2) That slime that we are all so scared of is a “Mixture of long entangled carbohydrate molecules and proteins that help plants and seed retain their water” (McGee pg. 339)

3) The okra mucilage (i.e. slime) can be utilized as a thickener for soups and stews, just toss it in and watch the magic happen.

4) Alternatively, the slime can be avoided entirely by using “dry cooking techniques” such as frying, baking and grilling

So, the moral of the story is, in order to avoid slime, avoid water in the cooking of okra. So easy!

With this in mind, I tossed okra in oil, sea salt and the juice of a Meyer lemon and went off to the barbecue, with a beer of course. Once cooked which took 5 minutes, I was shocked and so happy with the result.

Slightly salty and charred crisp on the outside with the most intense and buttery flavor and firm, not slimy texture! I then cut up the grilled okra and folded it into the slow cooked smoked paprika tomato mixture I had made and it was heaven.

Okra with Smoked Paprika infused stewed tomatoes

For Okra
2 pounds Okra
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
1 Lemon, juiced (optional)

For stewed tomatoes
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
4 medium-sized Tomatoes roughly chopped
1 large Sweet Onion diced
2 cloves Garlic roughly chopped
3 tablespoons Smoked Paprika
1 teaspoon Cayenne Pepper (don’t add if you are not a fan of spicy food)
1/2 cup Water
Salt to taste
1 bunch Basil for garnish

– toss okra in olive oil and salt, turn grill onto high and let cook for 5 minutes, turning them halfway through the cooking

– take them off and let cool, then chop into 3/4 inch rounds

– on medium heat place olive oil in saucepan
– put onions in olive oil and cook stirring often until tender and slightly brown
– add garlic and cook 2 minutes
– place tomatoes and water in pan and let mixture come to a simmer
– once simmering turn down heat slightly and add spices
– let simmer until it has reached a very thick soup consistency
– season with salt to your taste preference
– toss hot tomato sauce with cut okra, garnish with basil and devour!



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